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ACM TechNews
February 16, 2007

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Data Centers' Growing Power Demands
Technology Review (02/15/07) Greene, Kate

A new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study concerning the amount of power used by servers should help the industry decide how best to go about creating power consumption restrictions and solutions. "Estimating Total Power Consumption by Servers in the U.S. and the World," found that server power consumption doubled between 2000 and 2005, and that servers and their auxiliary elements make up 1.2 percent of the energy consumed in the United States and 0.8 of the power consumed worldwide. In 2005, U.S. servers used more power than 20 different states. The report is based on IDC research concerning the number of preexisting servers and shipments of servers, measured data, and estimates of the power used by servers of different classes. The quantification provided by the report can serve as a starting point for increasing efficiency, says report author Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientist Jonathan Koomey. "The industry sees that one of the first things you need to do to address the problem is to figure out how big it is," says Koomey, who sees "a lot of opportunity for improvement" in data centers. Companies have been aware that servers and data centers used more power than they should, and the report "corroborates our thinking and gives us quantification that might have been lacking before," says Hewlett-Packard fellow Chandrakant Patel. Researchers could use these results to contribute to a congressionally-mandated study on power consumption. Google's servers, which are actually motherboards made into custom servers, did not count as a server for this study, but Koomey found that if included, Google's servers would increase the amount of power consumed by 1.7 percent.
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Carnegie Mellon Software Steers NASA's Mars Rover
Carnegie Mellon News (02/13/07) Spice, Byron; Watzman, Anne

Initial tests have proved a success for autonomous navigation software created by Carnegie Mellon researchers to control the NASA Mars Rover "Opportunity." While previous autonomous software used to control Opportunity was only able to turn the rover when it found itself up against an obstacle, the CMU software creates a map of the terrain encountered by Opportunity and enables the rover to retrace its course or chart a new course if it needs to. To test the software, researchers directed the rover to an area on Mars that was known to be free of obstacles, where a "virtual keep out zone" was set up. The robot was able to make its way around the zone without going into it, showing its ability to maneuver autonomously around the craters of Mars. Earlier tests had only used the software to create paths for the robot to travel along but did not actually control the robot; the recent tests shows the software's ability to do both. "Much more work and testing remains to be done, but we are thrilled to see our software operating on Mars and we believe it will ultimately expand the capabilities of this and future planetary rovers," said CMU robotics professor Tony Stentz. Stentz had developed this particular software, Field D*, for use on the CMU "Crusher" experimental unmanned ground combat vehicle, but it had to be adapted to the weaker processor on board Opportunity. Field D* is very computationally efficient, able to create new path plans many times a second. The current rover's longevity, four years compared to a life expectancy of a few months, has enabled the testing of new capabilities.
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Blogs to the Rescue!
Nature (02/15/07) Butler, Declan

A policy paper written by two University of Maryland professors recommends that the government incorporate Internet "community" tools to better deal with disaster relief or similar situations. The online community, using blogs, wikis, and other tools, could provide and share valuable information that would improve the effectiveness of professional emergency response efforts, say computer science professor Ben Shneiderman, founding director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Jennifer Preece, dean of the College of Information Studies. After the 2004 tsunami, the most common way to coordinate damage assessment and support was through the information being provided by volunteers using Web tools. Similar efforts were seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when many Web sites emerged to keep track of missing people and relief efforts. The UM paper calls attention to the lack of online reporting and networking incorporated into Homeland Security's new Information Network for Disaster Response as well as its online volunteer forum citizenscorp.gov. "If such systems were formalized in whole or in part, the impact could indeed be enormous," says the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Lars Bromley. But, "It's entirely possible that [the plan] is simply too decentralized and technically advanced for the relatively moribund .gov sector." A project known as Instedd intends to create a decentralized global reporting system for disease outbreaks. For such programs to have an impact, "A sympathetic balance between local and central will be necessary," says Preece.
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$82 for E-Voting Secrets
Wired News (02/16/07) Zetter, Kim

Princeton computer science professor Andrew Appel was able to purchase five Sequoia e-voting machines from a government auction site for $82 and has already demonstrated the ease with which the machines can be broken into and compromised. His work is the first time a researcher has examined one of Sequoia's machines without signing a non-disclosure agreement. The 20-year-old machines, known as the AVC Advantage, have ROM chips that are in sockets, rather than soldered to the board, and while Sequoia claims tamper-evident seals allow officials to make sure no tampering has occurred, Appel's machines had no such seals. The manufacturer also claims the machine itself knows what software it is supposed to run, and that election management and tallying software at election offices would spot a change in software. However, Appel claims that the only connection between the machine and the district server would be through a cartridge where vote totals are collected. Even if the machine cryptographically signed the information placed on the cartridge, this signature would be stored in the machine's ROM, making it accessible to a hacker. "Whatever the legitimate software does to take checksums of itself can all be simulated by the fraudulent software," says Appel. Despite the ease with which he gained access to the machine's sensitive information, Appel believes the AVC Advantage is more secure than the Diebold machine his colleague Ed Felten was able to break into and compromise last year. Appel admits that hackers would need to access tens or hundreds of these machines to impact an election, but he points out that they normally sit unattended in churches or schools the day before an election.
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Lawmakers Gear Up for Patent System Overhaul
CNet (02/15/07) Broache, Anne

Although patent reform is a rare issue in which where lawmakers from both parties find themselves largely in agreement, the effort to reform patent laws still faces obstacles. Several industry disputes have held up patent reform recently, including that between the IT industry, which argues that damages awarded for patent infringement should be based on the value of the specific patent in question not the entire product, since most of their products involve multiple patents, and the pharmaceutical industry, which wants damages paid based on the value of the entire product, since most of their products involve a single patent. House Judiciary subcommittee chair Howard Berman (D-Calif.) has unsuccessfully proposed two different bills in past years that would have improved the quality of patents awarded, and his new bill is expected to be submitted within the next month. The bill is designed to ensure that the patent office has the funding to hire a sufficient number of examiners and staff, require patent applications to be made public for a number of months so evidence of predating inventions can be submitted, and to scrutinize business method patents, although not eliminate them. Effective patent reform legislation would make it possible for patent examiners "to get more appropriate information from people who really know what is novel and what is obvious," says Brandeis University economics professor Adam Jaffe. However, not everyone agrees with strengthening patents. The Public Patent Foundation, made up of the computer industry and free software representatives believes, "Software should not be patentable, and neither should business methods," says executive director Daniel Ravicher.
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ASU Helps Create the Real Face of George Washington
Arizona Republic (02/16/07) Ryman, Anne

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Arizona State University were able to create life-size figures of George Washington using a combination of anthropology, 3D scanning, and digital reconstruction. "The whole idea is to put science, history, and art together and come up with the absolute best guess of what he looked like," said James Rees, executive director of George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate. ASU was responsible for the 3D scanning technology that was used on objects such as a bust and mask that were made of Washington when he was 53. Computer software was developed with the help of an anthropologist to reverse the aging process to generate a replica of Washington's face at various ages. ASU computer science professor Anshuman Razdan, who lead the school's nine-member team, says, "This was ... a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." The digital images were sent to a studio that made clay models that were then painted and dressed. The 30-month project, whose idea was to put a human face on history, was made possible by ASU's Partnership for Research in Spatial Modeling (PRISM) and a grant from the Mount Vernon estate. Razdan says the technology used to recreate Washington could be used on other famous figures. He says, "You could do Lincoln, Jefferson, so many of our Founding Fathers."
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Senator Introduces 'Disappointing' E-Vote Reform Bill
InternetNews.com (02/14/07) Hickins, Michael

A Senate bill that would require a paper trail for all e-voting machines is not receiving support from many voting activists who feel that it does not go far enough to protect against fraud. The bill has been introduced by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who said, "If Congress doesn't get this done, I'm afraid our democracy could die from lack of legitimacy." Along with mandating paper trails for e-voting and requiring random audits of paper records against electronic counts in every voting district, the bill would prohibit state election officials from working on candidates' campaigns. It is virtually identical to a bill filed in the House last week, except that the House bill allows exemptions for states that have mandatory recounts in specific situations, or a "'Get Our of Audit Free' card," as VotersUnite executive director John Gideon refers to it. Although VotersUnite supports the elements of the bill that require hand audits, disclosed source code, and the use of testing labs that are independent from vendors, "we believe we have a duty to call attention to the bill's unacceptable shortcomings" says Gideon. The group would prefer to see the use of direct record electronic machines (DREs) banned in favor of paper ballots. However, the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project has found that most voters fail to check paper print-outs for accuracy. Advocates for the blind are against banning DREs, because they allow the blind to vote confidentially, but e-voting activists point out that it is a computer interface, not the direct recording of votes by a computer, that allows for this confidentiality.
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Photo Software Creates 3-D World
University of Washington News and Information (02/14/07) Hickey, Hannah

Computer scientists at the University of Washington and Microsoft are developing software for organizing digital photos and compiling images from common scenes into 3D virtual environments. Beyond organizing photos, the software, dubbed Photo Tourism, could be used for virtual tours, recreating events, or even developing a map from all the photos on the Internet. "You might look at a photo and say I wonder what's just to the left of it, or I wonder what's just to the right of it, or I wish I could expand the field of view," says UW doctoral student Noah Snavely, explaining the frustration that accompanies searching photo sites such as Flickr. Photo Tourism utilizes recent innovations in computer vision: By examining details shared by images, the software can tell that images are of the same scene and fuse them together in 3D; the individual photos are then represented as small squares placed where the picture was taken from in a 3Dsketch of the complete scene. Looking through the images is meant to be game-like; when viewing one image a user can click on a section of the screen to see images of this area, or can choose from images tiled along the bottom of the screen that contain parts of the current image. "I think it has the possibility to be much, much richer than just a static 3-D model," Snavely says. If the technology could be applied to Google Earth, users could potentially zoom in continuously without resolution decreasing. However, scaling the software to handle millions of photos would require a tremendous deal more work.
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ACM Digital Library Now Exceeds One Million Entries
AScribe Newswire (02/14/07)

ACM's digital collection has surpassed 1 million entries. ACM reached the milestone in February with the entry of "Spam and the Ongoing Battle for the Inbox," the cover story from the February 2007 issue of Communications of the ACM, the association's flagship publication. ACM's digital resources consist of the Digital Library, which includes the full text of all material published by the association over the past 60 years, and the Guide to Computing Literature, which offers a bibliographic database of the key publications in the industry. "For people who design, develop and manage information systems, the DL and Guide provide easy entry into the massive amounts of scientific and technical information that drive innovation," says ACM CEO John White. "With 1 million entries, ACM's DL really is the definitive digital collection for computing." Each year, 50,000 items are added to the Guide, which includes journals, proceedings, books, technical reports, dissertations, and requests for comment.
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Making Operating Rooms Safer With Open Communication Among Equipment
UNH Media Relations (02/13/07) Potier, Beth

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are looking to decrease medical errors caused by miscommunication between operating room instruments. "We're trying to get pieces of equipment that don't normally talk to each other to do so," says project leader and professor of electrical and computer engineering John LaCourse. Although major pieces of equipment are computerized, they cannot share information. For example, when a bed is raised a patient's blood pressure fluctuates, but the monitor, which does not move, provides a faulty reading. Humans can usually calculate a more accurate reading using mental calculations, "But we want double-fault controls because there are peoples' lives at stake," LaCourse says. His team has been exploring the use of CANopen, a communications protocol that uses a common hardware and software package and is able to maintain the accuracy of the different proprietary electronics involved. CANopen has been used in the automobile industry to make computerized parts of a car that were manufactured separately work together. For LaCourse, the biggest challenge has been to get information from equipment manufacturers who are trying to protect their intellectual property. The team is now focusing on what they call "closing the loop ... We're trying to see if we can not only get the bed and the monitor to talk to each other but also control each other," says LaCourse. He hopes that manufacturers will eventually install CANopen in all operating room equipment, which would alleviate the need for personnel to calibrate the instruments as they must do now.
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Haptic Glove to Touch on Virtual Fabrics
New Scientist (02/13/07) Simonite, Tom

Researchers in several European countries are collaborating to develop "virtual" fabric that combines a "haptic" interface with a "touching" interface. The "haptic" interface is an exoskeleton glove with a mechanical control system that simulates manipulating fabric by exerting a force on the user's fingers, and the "touching" interface is an array of pins located under each finger that simulates the tactile sense of a fabric's texture. "Nobody has ever linked a 'haptic' device with a 'touching' device," said project Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann of the University of Geneva. "It should lead to a much more realistic experience." A virtual fabric operates on two levels: A "global" model of its properties, and a more detailed model of the area in "contact" with the glove. To fulfill the second level, a realistic touch interface would ideally be able to change 500 times per second, but the researchers have only been able to make one that changes 40 times per second. The tactile arrays consist of 24 pins in a space of one square centimeter that are moved up and down by piezoelectric actuators. "We're not trying to replicate the topology of the surface, but to provide the right stimuli to the touch receptors in the fingertips, which are about 0.5 mm to 1 mm apart," explains Exeter University's Ian Summers. Tests have proved successful, allowing users to differentiate between virtual fabrics.
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'Virtual Dublin' R&D Project Gets Euros 2.5m SFI Grant
Silicon Republic (02/14/07) Smith, Gordon

Computing gaming, assistive technologies, and urban planning are expected to benefit from the creation of a computer model of Dublin, Ireland, that will be made to scale and offer a level of life-like street scenes, crowds, and traffic noise that has never been rendered before. The 'virtual Dublin' project will make use of a scalable simulation server that is capable of streaming the virtual environment to a game console, mobile phone, or other consumer device, as well as the IBM CELL Broadband Engine processor that is found in the Sony PlayStation 3 console. Researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) are pursuing the project, which is called "Metropolis." The team consists of computer science professors Carol O'Sullivan and Dr. Steven Collins, neuroscience researcher Dr. Fiona Newell, and mechanical and manufacturing professor Henry Rice. "The aim of the research is to simulate large crowds consisting of millions of people and to introduce a high level of variety in animation, appearance, and sound," says O'Sullivan. In addition to IBM and Sony, Europe's Team Soho, Creative, Havok, Demonware, OC3 Entertainment, and the Environmental Protection Agency are involved in the initiative. The Science Foundation of Ireland has provided 2.5 million euros to fund the project.
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IC Designers Need to Focus on Security, Panel Says
EE Times (02/14/07) Mokhoff, Nicolas

A panel of algorithm experts and hardware specialists at the International Solid State Circuits Conference agreed that circuit designers must do their part in securing digital systems. "Security is only as strong as the weakest link in the system," said Katholieke Universiteit Leuve (Belgium) professor Ingrid Verbauwhede. "Mathematically very strong algorithms have been and are being developed. However, if the key leaks from the integrated circuit, this will be the weakest link." Algorithms such as AES, DES, and triple-DES must be implemented into ultra-low power platforms such as RFID tags as well as high-throughput platforms like Gigabit IP routers, but area and power costs must be kept under control. Given recent innovations that are enhancing the speed and power of cryptographic hardware, these systems are virtually impregnable if they have a long enough key. "However, digital systems are vulnerable to side-channel attacks that deduce information by monitoring side effects of the encryption process," said IBM engineer Norman Rohrer. Public-key cryptography needs to be further developed, "requiring advanced algorithms and design techniques," said Oregon State professor Cetin Kaya Koc. One possible solution is to create a secure ASIC, but the challenge is that while developers improve defense measures and make use of new technologies, hackers share information and learn from past attacks. A successfully secure ASIC would have to stay ahead of hackers while meeting the needs of manufacturing, maintainability, and cost.
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Teraflops Chip Points to Future
BBC News (02/12/07)

Intel has developed a new Teraflops chip, but in order for the chip to lead to more powerful processors programmers will need to provide instructions for a large number of cores that work in parallel with one another. The chip, which can perform more than 1 trillion calculations per second, has 80 processing cores, which would be difficult for desktop applications to handle. In comparison, desktop computers have up to four separate cores, and the Cell processor in PlayStation 3 game consoles has eight. "It's going to require a revolution in software programming," says Dr. Mark Bull of the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center. Justin Rattner, Intel senior fellow and chief technology officer, says the chip has huge implications for multi-core and parallel computing. "It points the way to the near future when teraflops-capable designs will be commonplace and reshape what we can all expect from our computers and the Internet at home and in the office," he says. The chips could be used for artificial intelligence, instant video communications, photo-realistic games, and real-time speech recognition.
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Quantum Computing at 16 Qubits
Nature (02/15/07) Brumfiel, Geoff

Many experts are doubting that the 16-qubit quantum computer demonstrated by D-Wave this week can be scaled up to a size that would make it useful for real-world applications. In its present form, the machine is thought to be "completely useless from an industrial perspective," says Waterloo University computer scientist Scott Aaronson. The quantum computer was shown to be able to solve a sodoku puzzle and look for matches in a protein database, but it is about 100 times slower than conventional computers, admits D-Wave chief technology officer Geordie Rose, who calls the current machine "a very early prototype." He believes that scaling up the technology will be possible, and claims to have several parties interested in the machine. D-Wave is not the first to have qubits interact to execute simple operations, but the company has made more qubits interact that anyone so far. Although the system should be easy to scale up because it is constructed using techniques from the semiconductor industry, "the issue isn't how many qubits, it's how many well-controlled qubits," says University of Oxford quantum computing expert Andrew Steane. During operation, the qubits are not individually controlled as they are in other machines, and if left alone the current of each one can simultaneously flow both clockwise and counterclockwise around a circular superconductor, producing two values at the same time. Many worry that if D-Wave's prototype is released too early and does not live up to expectations, the field of quantum computing could lose credibility.
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Spin Doctors
Engineer (02/12/07)

European researchers involved in the Nanospin project see spintronics as a way to improve the speed and memory storage capacity of computing devices. Experts from eight academic and industrial organizations plan to use gallium manganese arsenide, a ferromagnetic semiconductor, to develop new kinds of spintronic nanoscale devices. They will use the low-temperature ferromagnetic semiconductor to test the spintronics approach, but the technology will ultimately need to work with room-temperature semiconductors. With spintronics, the idea is to bring the properties of electronic and magnetic devices together, which would enable permanent memory and its control electronically, explains University of Wurzburg physics professor Laurens Molenkamp. "Programmable logic applications could enable you to have your computer applications instantly available," says Dr. Charles Gould, a post-doctorate researcher involved in the project. "You wouldn't have to wait for it to boot up, you just store where you were in memory at night, and the next morning you start immediately where you left off." Aside from spintronics, carbon nanotubes and organic electronics are other technologies being considered for making computing devices that are faster and use less power.
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Printed Electronics Set to Be Next Big Thing
Electronics Weekly (UK) (02/14/07)

New markets are expected to be birthed from printed electronics, and most of their potential lies in smart media products (SMP), according to Toppan Forms. SMP will boast intelligence and mass production while also being customizable, says the IDTechEx technology consultancy. Printed electronics will most commonly take shape as tape, posters, packaging, patches, and "wallpaper," and will be put to use in situations where traditional technology is infeasible. Hybrid organic/inorganic structures hold the most potential for printed electronics because they combine low cost with rapid printing technology. The success of most printed electronics applications will ride on their ability to perform new functions and create new markets rather than supplant current solutions. The biggest opportunity for printed electronics is for devices on flexible paper or polymer substrates, not just for their low cost but for their physical suitability for largest-volume applications such as smart packaging, smart labels, books, signage, newspapers, billboards, and posters. Low installation cost is also an advantage. The most significant announcement this year has been the raising of $100 million by Plastic Logic to establish a plant to manufacture flexible electrophoretic displays for "take anywhere, read anywhere" electronic reader products, employing Plastic Logic's process to assemble active-matrix displays using thin, lightweight, and robust printed transistor backplanes.
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A Race to the Technological Frontier
Federal Computer Week (02/12/07) Vol. 21, No. 3, P. 28; Rogin, Josh

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) robotic vehicle competition, now entering its third year, has shifted its focus from autonomous vehicles racing through the desert to an urban setting. The goal is to make unmanned driving a reality so that one-third of the Defense Department's military ground vehicles can go robotic, thus reducing battlefield casualties; a side benefit of this technology is systems that can lower the 43,000 yearly civilian deaths attributed to vehicle accidents. The 2007 Urban Challenge will set up a model downtown area complete with paved roads, traffic circles, stop signs, and sharp corners, and all participating vehicles will be on the course simultaneously instead of racing in turns. Each vehicle must execute a set of military supply missions using only sensors and software for guidance, while also dealing with each other, DARPA-supplied traffic, and other moving obstacles. A $2 million, $1 million, and $500,000 jackpot awaits the teams that finish the 60 miles of assignments in first, second, and third place. Some teams participating in the Urban Challenge are not competing strictly for the money, but for the opportunity to cross-pollinate other research applications with the lessons they take away from the contest. Still other teams have entered the Urban Challenge with new product development in mind, and at least one team is being sponsored by every major auto manufacturer. Stanford University researcher David Stavens says the biggest challenges of this year's competition will be compensating for the loss of GPS reliability in an urban environment and recognizing moving obstacles.
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Can't Touch This
Fast Company (02/07)No. 112, P. 86; Penenberg, Adam L.

New York University Courant Institute research scientist Jefferson Han has devised a touch-screen interface that is potentially revolutionary, because it carries out actions according to movement and tactile pressure from multiple inputs. Han founded Perceptive Pixel to market his invention. His prototype system supplies a light source using a piece of clear, retrofitted acrylic with LEDs mounted on the side, while an infrared camera is positioned at the rear; when one places one's fingers on the surface, some light bounces straight down and the camera captures the light image. Applying more pressure causes the camera to capture more data, and Han designed software that measures the shape and size of each contact and assigns a set of defining coordinates. "One thing that excited me about Jeff Han's system is that because of the infrared light passing horizontally through the image surface itself, it can track not only the position of your hand but also the contact pressure and potentially even the approach of your hand to the screen," notes Douglas Edric Stanley, professor of digital arts at the Aix-en-Provence School of Art. Han has developed mapping software and an application for manipulating photos as proof-of-concept demonstrations. "Touch is one of the most intuitive things in the world," explains Han. "Instead of being one step removed, like you are with a mouse and keyboard, you have direct manipulation."
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